The group followed Carlo Vega up to the house and he led them up and into the right wing of the large ranch house. He showed them to their rooms which each held an en suite bath. "If you're tired feel free to rest, or if you're hungry I can show you to the kitchen…although to be perfectly honest it isn't hard to find." The shorter man was jovial and seemed extremely pleased they were there. "There's plenty to do."
"You got horses?" Crysta, Angel and Roy 's daughter asked with wide eyes.
Carlo grinned. "We have plenty of horses. A few cows, sheep, chickens, goats, and other assorted animals roaming about too. My children have always loved animals." He leaned closer. "In fact we have a raccoon."
Cara's two children crowded closer. "Really?" Micah, her eldest son who was six whispered in awe.
"Really, really." He promised. "Jessie saved him when he was just a baby. Jess rescued a lot of our motley assortment on the ranch." Carlo straightened and looked at the adults. "Rescuing's something she's been doing for a while now." Carlo met Mike's gaze with a challenging one of his own.
Mike could only nod. He understood the look. Jess was a good person. She helped people. In other words…don't hurt the man's daughter…again.
"Papa, Uncle Mateo is arguing with Hank about the grill again." Jess's soft voice came from behind them.
The man chuckled and shook his head. "I will deal with him." He addressed his guests. "Forgive me but I must speak with my wayward brother. Jess will get you anywhere you need to go, otherwise, please, feel free to make yourselves at home."
As soon as he was out of the room the little boy Micah was tugging on Jess's hand, "Could we see your raccoon? Please?"
Jess rewarded the boy with a huge smile. "Of course, Bandit loves visitors. Maybe we'll take him a little treat, what do you think?" Now she had all of the children's undivided attention. "Maybe, after we take a look at Bandit, you'd like to see some of our other furry friends?" All three children clambered around her now. She was smiling widely as she looked at the group. "You're all welcome to join us, or you can stay here, unpack, relax for a bit. I promise I'll take good care of everyone."
"I wouldn't mind taking a nap." Cara smiled brightly at Jess.
"I'm with ya there." Mel agreed.
"Dude, I never turn down a free babysitter." Roy teased.
Angel smacked him. "If you're sure you don't mind Jess…I really wouldn't mind getting everything unpacked, and maybe resting for a bit."
"I don't mind at all." She promised.
"I'd like to come with." Vicky was already heading for the door. "I love animals. All animals."
"Which is how I keep getting bit by everything under the sun." Tommy muttered as he followed his fiancé to the door.
Two of the kids had grabbed onto Jess's hands. "You mind if I come with?" Mike asked softly.
"Of course not." She replied shyly.
Jackson, Cara's four year old took Mike's hand, "Come on Uncle Mike, we gotta go the raccoon!"
"Well, what're you waiting for?" Mike teased and swung the boy up onto his shoulders. The group headed outside, following Jess out towards one of the large barns.
"Bandit doesn't sleep in the barn." She told the kids. "But he spends his time there during the day…otherwise he gets underfoot in the house."
"What does underfoot mean?" Crysta asked. "Does people step on him?"
"I know what it means." Micah chimed in importantly squeezing Jess's hand. "It means you're driving your mom crazy when she's trying to do somethin'. Me an' Jack get underfoot all the time."
The adults were trying to hide their smiles. "That's pretty close Micah." Jess told him.
"Bandit likes to be sneaky, and Ms. Keller, our Housekeeper, doesn't like it when Bandit sneaks into the kitchen because he goes through all the cabinets and pulls things out."
"That is naughty. We would get spankin's for that." Jackson said solemnly.
Jess opened the barn door and the group stepped inside. She gave out three short whistles and the group heard a rustling. Moments later a gray and black ball of fur scampered across the ground toward the group and up the post next to Jess. The plump raccoon stretched up, placing his paws on Jess's arm, and bumping his head into her bicep. The children stared in awe with open mouths. Jess took something white out of her pocket and handed it to the animal who took it eagerly.
"What was that you gave him?" Mike was smiling down at the little creature.
"Unfortunately, even though I'm sure they're not good for him at all, Bandit is seriously addicted to marshmallows." She told him. Farther down in the barn one of the horse stall doors swung open and an old bloodhound made his way out and down to the group. "And this here is Hamilton . I've had Hamilton since I was ten years old. In fact, it was Hamilton who helped me find Bandit."
"Don't dogs normally dislike raccoons?" Tommy asked.
"Pretty much. Raccoons are scavengers. But Hamilton got used to me bringing home new critters from the beginning. In fact, even as a puppy Hamilton was with me when we were out looking for little animals to help."
"Your dad said you rescued a lot of the animals you have out here." Mike murmured.
She nodded, meeting his gaze. "Sometimes I would 'see' things regarding people, mostly family members, but in the beginning, when I was so young it was mostly animals." She told him. At first Jess wondered if he was going to blow her off, but then she saw he was listening. All three adults were; the children were petting Hamilton and Bandit. "As I got older I started tuning in more and more to people. You all want to head out and see our goats?" she addressed the children. "We have a couple of babies."
Crysta stood and looked at her. "I wanna see the babies."
Jess motioned to the far doors. "Through that door Little Lady."
The children hurried ahead with Tommy and Vicky right behind. Jess was moving to catch up when Mike spoke. "Jess?"
She turned hesitantly to look at him.
"I was hoping we could talk while I was here…I was hoping you'd let me do some talking…" he began. "Not that I have any right to ask, but I was hoping you'd give me a chance?"
Hope filled Jess. "I think that would be great." She told him softly.